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How long does it take to restore your gut flora?

Stress, antibiotics, junk food... Our microbiota can be destabilised by a multitude of factors. But how quickly can we expect to restore balance to our gut flora?

Woman with re-balanced gut flora

How can you tell if your gut flora is in good shape?

As you know, the intestinal flora (or gut microbiota) is an ecosystem of living microorganisms – bacteria, yeasts, as well as viruses and fungi – which sits in the walls of the small intestine and colon. This is by far the most populated area of the body, playing host to between 1012 and 1014 guests on average (1)!

A healthy gut flora is considered to be one which maintains the right balance between ‘friendly’ strains beneficial to health, and potentially pathogenic strains (2). This state of symbiosis is usually characterised by:

  • trouble-free digestion and regular intestinal transit;
  • a functioning immune system;
  • healthy skin;
  • good nervous system balance;
  • a stable weight.

Disruption to the gut flora: what are the symptoms?

Conversely, when ‘unfriendly’ bacteria get the upper hand over ‘friendly’ ones, the gut flora becomes unbalanced, a state referred to as dysbiosis (3). This can be triggered by an unbalanced diet, increased stress, exposure to pollutants (smoking, alcohol, drugs ...), immune deficiency or repeated use of antibiotics (4).

The clearest indications of intestinal dysbiosis are:

  • digestive discomfort: stomach aches, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation... (5);
  • recurrent infections, digestive inflammation, auto-immune disorders (6);
  • skin problems(7);
  • mood disorders: anxiety, low mood...(8);
  • weight gain reflecting changes in metabolism (9).

How long does it take to rebalance the gut flora?

The good news is you can restore balance to your microbiota by repopulating the intestinal tract with beneficial strains, obtained directly from the diet or via dietary supplements.

In terms of the timescale involved, it clearly depends on individual factors : initial microbiota composition (unique to each individual), previous medical treatments, lifestyle changes implemented ... (10)

However, it’s fair to say that by modifying your diet and focusing on appropriate strains, you can expect your microbiota to be fully restored within 1-3 months on average (11-12). That doesn’t mean, however, that you can forget about looking after your microbiota on a day-to-day basis, just as you wouldn’t stop tending your garden!

Which foods are bad for the gut flora?

If you’re looking to regenerate your microbiota, you need to ban ultra-processed foods in general – the preservatives, sweeteners and other additives they contain are likely to have a disruptive effect (13).

Be sure too, to reduce your intake of refined sugar and saturated and trans fats (deli meats, red meat, fried foods, pastries ...) (14-15).

Last but not least, cut back on your alcohol consumption: a number of studies suggest that alcohol-induced changes to the microbiota may increase intestinal hyperpermeability and promote the development of liver problems (16).

Which foods should you eat to restore a healthy gut flora?

In contrast, there are two categories of food which are particularly recommended for restoring balance to the gut microbiota:

  • probiotic foods produced by lacto-fermentation, which are natural reservoirs of lactic bacteria: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, natural or bifidus-containing yogurt ... (17);
  • prebiotic fibre, which feeds the good bacteria and helps it implant in the intestinal tract: this is found in certain fruits and vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas), in chicory root and in whole grains (barley, rye ...) (18).

Restoring the gut flora: what about probiotic supplements?

In helping to maintain a balanced gut microbiota, probiotics provide valuable support for depleted or insufficiently-diverse gut flora (19). Their real value is in delivering high concentrations of live bacteria, the strains of which are carefully selected to ensure they respond effectively to the problem targeted.

So for optimal results, it’s important not only to isolate the particular strain required, but to know how long you need to take it in order to gain maximum benefit.

Broadly speaking, the typical duration of a course of probiotic supplements is 1-3 months, repeatable if necessary – making sure you leave a gap between each period of supplementation to allow the gut to work independently (20-21). Another option is to alternate different strains to restore microbiotic biodiversity and prevent your gut flora from becoming ‘lazy’.

So you’d like to start supplementing with probiotics ? Here are some tips to help you make the right choice:

  • the strain Bifidobacterium longum, one of the most widely-studied by scientists, is more popular for sluggish digestion. Clinical studies suggest a 4 week period of supplementation (22-23);
  • several studies confirm the benefits of starting a course of probioticsas soon as you begin taking antibiotics and to continue doing so for 1-2 weeks after completing the antibiotic treatment. Specific strains (such as Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus rhamnosus) appear to have promising effects (24);
  • if your goal is to reduce your waistline, it may help, alongside a weight-loss diet, to take a 3-month course of Lactobacillus reuteri, which research has shown interacts with abdominal fat (25);
  • for skin problems, you can try supplementing for 1-3 months(with, for example, the 4-strain probiotic Derma Relief, also rich in vitamin B2 which helps maintain healthy skin) (26-27);
  • if the issue is lack of motivation or irritability, restoring balance to your gut microbiota appears to be particularly important given the identification of a bi-directional gut-brain axis (28). Synergistic formulations called ‘psychobiotics’ (such as Lactoxira, which combines 8 probiotic strains with prebiotics) are based on the latest advances in neuroscience and should be taken for a period of 4-6 weeks (29).



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